Thursday, 5 September 2013

Demons - review

1985 (Italy)

Contains spoilers.

I'm inevitably inviting trouble with this one, I know. I mean they're demons not zombies right, it even says so on the cover. That being said the more films I review the more I come to terms with the ambiguous ever evolving definition of zombie. Each iteration of our (un)dead antihero brings new rules, new behaviours and new fears born from that generations personal ennui and crisis. Romero got it, twisting the dark Haitian slaves with prevalent 60s fear about lack of identity and direction to create the western archetype. Boyle too, understood, pouncing on a society obsessed with disease and pandemic, isolation and how reliant we now are on the state and modern infrastructure. As each generation redefines itself,  so a mirror is held up and our darkest fears of course will change too. The zombie is a manifestation of the lack of self and identity as defined at that time and place; a metaphor for becoming lost in that particular herd.  Just because one can run, one doesn't actually die, one is controlled by a voodoo master doesn't really matter, does it? I guess what I'm saying is maybe there's room to play and I for one, probably shouldn't take it all too seriously, which reminds me, they're also a pretty good thing to use to scare the heebie-jeebies out of us.

Every so often you come across a film that just gets it. A film with a clear identity, a clear vision and the unwavering ability deliver it. This is such a film. Italian director Lamberto Bava and producer Dario Argento, have produced a simple, brilliant claustrophobic horror that's unremitting in its pace and atmosphere, and uncompromising in it's use of blood and gore in the best grind-house tradition. There's not a single dead scene, it flows with consummate ease and despite being such a facile almost basic clichéd concept, it's surprising, invigorating and inventive at every turn. Honestly, as I watched the mayhem and carnage with Fast as a Shark by Accept, part of an up tempo 80s pop/metal soundtrack, accompanying it all, blood curdling scream for scream, I honestly wondered if it could get any better.

A masked man has seemingly chosen a motley assortment of 80s stereotypes to come watch a film in what was an abandoned West Berlin cinema. Taking their seats Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) and Kathy (Paola Cozzo) attract two admirers, George (Urbano Barberini) and Ken (Karl Zinny) who offer to hold their hands should the onscreen horror get too much. The whole Nostradamus back story, with a lost prophesy and a possessed mask is farcical and a bit farfetched but having it play out as a meta-narrative b-movie is genius. Rosemary (Geretta Geretta), one of girls brought to the theatre by 'Tony the pimp' (Bobby Rhodes) is the first to turn in an explosion of green goo and macabre twisted prosthetic brilliance and watching and waiting as the fantasy horror of the screen meets the real and genuine horror that's now heading their direction is brilliantly tense and the anticipation is palpable. This Arrow Blu-ray release has a remarkably good transfer, crisp and clean, but never do the great and gory effects from Sergio Stivoletti ever seem inauthentic.

So why am I interested in this film? Sure they're people possessed by demons but they seem to need to die first and once someone is bitten or scratched they'll turn into a demon too. I'll admit it's a little ambiguous whether you actually have to die or not, but death certainly doesn't seem to interfere with the new state and certainly doesn't stop them chasing anyone alive with an insatiable hunger to sink their teeth in. Ok most of them do get a bit physically demonic with pointy fangs, long sharp finger nails and gnarly warped faces but at heart they behave and act like zombies, moaning shuffling with gnashing teeth and their arms out stretched. It's really not that far removed from Evil Dead or [REC]. And ok, I said they weren't really zombie films either but I also said it was close. Certainly, at the end, as the two survivors run across the apocalyptic wasteland that has befallen Berlin, pursued by a flesh hungry mob of undead demons it really felt like I was watching a zombie film albeit in name.

I mentioned I couldn't help notice the similarities to the [REC] franchise; demon-zombies, a tight claustrophobic set with no exit, transference of an 'infection' which enables possession, lots of scares, blood and gore. There's also the convenient introduction of new characters who can get in but not out ala [REC]², and if this franchise can get away with being called a pseudo-zombie one I'm not sure why Demons can't.

Ok, I will concede it's maybe not quite perfect; amassing such an assortment of 80s tropes all ready for the slaughter is convenient and perhaps a tad lazy and the film doesn't do a great deal to explain in any coherent manner what's really going on, but to me the ambiguity and confusion feels deliberate, and amplifies the constant dread and tension. One comes away from the film with a mountain of questions, but that's ok, sometimes its good to be left in the dark. The dialogue is sharp and witty, the acting fun and full of retro-charm and the action, carnage and slaughter are delivered non stop and with ferocity.

I was really quite smitten with Demons, a gratuitous no nonsense 80s horror-slasher with oodles of blood and gore and charm. As I've said it accomplishes what it set out to do with success and style and it delivered everything I could want. A real popcorn horror delight, 9/10.



  1. I'm so psyched to see that you enjoyed this one for all the same reasons I did. A memorable splatterfest of cheesiness, ridiculousness and total chaos.

    1. I did, I absolutely loved it. It's definitely one I'll be coming back to. I saw your review, have you the second yet?